from ULTRAZONE: TANGIER TOMBSTONE BLUES
A collaborative work-in-progress
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth part in a weekly series of an excerpt from a new work by Francis Poole & Mark Terrill.
Abdul and Tweed said goodbye to Kazim as he closed the main door behind them. Steetoo was struggling to hold the rope attached to the donkey’s halter. The animal was obviously agitated and was trying to pull itself free. The donkey’s shrill braying had attracted several neighborhood kids who began laughing and teasing Steetoo. He responded with a stream of curses in Arabic and Moroccan Darija. Abdul saw that the straps holding the carpet to the donkey’s side had loosened and the carpet had slipped halfway under its belly. Abdul calmed the donkey with a few softly spoken phrases and adjusted the carpet.
That done, Abdul, Tweed, Steetoo and the donkey started for St. Andrew’s. The rain had stopped completely and the late afternoon clouds had begun to come apart in shreds like wet tissue. Here and there streaks of dark blue and pink shone through. From the minaret of a nearby mosque came the sound of the muezzin’s call to the evening prayer, “Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar…,” Abdul decided to avoid the Zoco Chico with its noisy cafés and street scene and instead took a less trafficked path which wound its way through the medina toward the old Cine Alcazar and Rue San Francisco. Tweed was beginning to regret that he had gone to Abdul’s. Now I’m about to become involved in a farce more ridiculous than Aicha’s crack-brained plan to try and disguise me as William Burroughs, he thought. I could probably have handled this whole caper on my own if I only had a chance to be alone with Moustapha so I could hypnotize him and have him start digging. Once Harris’ remains were exhumed I could probably hire a smuggler to move them to Malta. But, fuck it all, I’ll just have to play along.
The evening markets were coming alive. The donkey halted a few times en route to sniff the piles of vegetables and other produce that lined the way. Steetoo would say, “Yallah, yallah,” to the donkey and pull his head back with the rope. Once though, the donkey managed to snatch a large green squash and hastily chomped it down. The vendor yelled in protest and Tweed fished out a few dirhams and tossed them at the man. Soon they reached the perimeter of the Grand Socco. Abdul told Steetoo to keep the donkey to the far right edge of the busy traffic circle. Once they had gotten past the hodge-podge of basket shops, tiny restaurants, and clothing and shoe stalls, they stopped. Tweed walked on ahead to the church entrance. The gate was open, which meant Moustapha must still be on premises. He went over to the groundkeeper’s shed where Moustapha would often be found resting on an old blanket-covered sway back chair. But he wasn’t there. Tweed looked around the cemetery but didn’t see anyone. Perhaps Mustapha is inside the church, Tweed thought, cleaning and locking things up for the day.
He went back to where Abdul, Steetoo, and the donkey were waiting and motioned for them to follow him in. Walter Harris’ grave is not easily spotted from the front of the church grounds and in the dimming light, the party of four were able to make their way to the area behind Harris’ tall and imposing tombstone. Steetoo tied the donkey’s lead rope to the handle of a vase which sat in front of a nearby grave. Tweed and Steetoo held on to the carpet as Abdul undid the straps. Then the three of them placed the carpet on some open ground.
“Now I must find the talismans with the magic writing,” said Abdul as he searched under his djellaba. He reached into the right side and then the left but found nothing. Then he stopped and with a nervous laugh lifted his wool cap. The cap held three pieces of aged-looking yellow paper.
“Should I read them?” asked Tweed.
“No, no. The carpet she only knows me. She is like one of my cats. Now where is the grave, Señor Tweed?”
“It’s there, behind the tall headstone. The grave of Walter Harris.”
“Ah, Walter Harris. Everyone knows about Sherif Harris. He lived like a Moroccan. Very strong and brave man, hamdoulah.”
“Can we hurry up a bit?“ suggested Tweed. “It’s getting late and I’m afraid Moustapha the watchman will see us. Or he may lock the gate behind us.”
Meanwhile the ghost of Walter Harris had been observing the whole scene while seated on the tombstone of the Reverend Cyril Clay, the only rector of St. Andrew’s to ever commit suicide. At the time of his death rumors were rampant and varied as to whether Reverend Clay had been driven mad by malevolent “spirits.” Harris looked on with amusement and curiosity. What use were the enhanced hypnotic powers he had given Tweed? Providing a donkey, an old man and a street urchin would have been much easier. In the fading light Harris’ ghost was invisible except to Steetoo who was gifted with a form of clairvoyance and second sight. Steetoo was unafraid as he had heard many stories about ghosts and spirits from Kazim. Sometimes he had even seen ghostly figures slip around corners and pass through walls in the medina. Harris was beginning to become excited at what he hoped would soon be the liberation of his remains and his reunion with his lover. He sat perfectly still so as not to disrupt the proceedings whatever they turned out to be.
“Where exactly do you want the body of Harris to be sent?” asked Abdul.
“To the Addolorata Cemetery in Malta where he can be reburied next to his friend, Pierre Rambeaux. Only then will Walter Harris find peace. That is my mission. But doesn’t the body have to be exhumed first?”
“Yes, yes, I think yes,” said Abdul. “But I do not know the full power of the carpet and what she can do. First the carpet must connect with the object and open herself up to the magic woven into her by the ancient weavers. If she does not connect then she will be just another carpet. Let us place the carpet over the grave and unroll it.”
The two men lifted the carpet and gently carried it over to Harris’ grave. Then they carefully unrolled it so that it completely covered the place where Harris’ remains were buried. As soon as they had unrolled the carpet, iridescent flames of red and purple began to dance and flicker around its edges. The carpet seemed to be drawn tightly to the grave as if embracing it. Steetoo kept watching Harris’ ghost and saw its eyes begin to glow brighter and brighter like two blazing meteors. Abdul fumbled with the talismans until he found the one he wanted.
He stood at the foot of Harris’ grave facing the headstone and read the magic words ending with the destination for the relocation of Harris’ remains. Tweed could feel the ground begin to tremble beneath his feet. The donkey jerked its head and stepped backwards dragging the vase it was tied to. Steetoo looked at Abdul and saw that his face had turned pale. A high-pitched sound rose from the carpet like a woman’s scream and there was an explosion of light brighter than a welder’s arc which momentarily blinded everyone. As their sight slowly returned Abdul and Tweed stood transfixed staring down at Harris’ grave. Where moments before there had been a carpet, now there was only a rectangle of pulsing blue light which quickly faded away. The carpet had vanished. Steetoo, whose heart was racing, looked back at where Harris’ ghost was sitting. There the figure of Harris turned luminescent, then gradually faded and disappeared.
Inside St. Andrew’s Church, Moustapha had been holding the keys to the rectory office when he heard a shriek and saw a flash of light through the window. He immediately thought of Dean’s tombstone and what he had done, wondering what sort of further magic or evil was now at work.
In the warmth of the late afternoon sun that was shining down through the tattered fragments of clouds into Aicha’s garden, Dean and Brunhilde were standing next to Burroughs, who was seated on an old iron garden chair next to the fish pond. Burroughs’ entire body was convulsing with deep sobs. Dean and Brunhilde each had a hand on his shoulders, trying to comfort him.
“What a fool I am,” Burroughs said between sobs. “With that same stupid Russian Roulette trick I killed Joan, my wife, the woman I loved, the mother of my son. The most fatal mistake I ever made. It was the death of Joan that brought me into contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I had had no choice except to write my way out. And I came pretty damn close.” Burroughs stopped talking and blew his nose and wiped his eyes with his handkerchief. “And now I manage to shoot the glass off the head of some penny-ante fake-witch whore who would anyway be better off dead. Jesus fucking Christ. Is that what you call grim irony, or what?”
The rhetorical question went unanswered in the silence of the garden, in which the last drops of rain could still be heard dripping in the leaves. There was a sudden flash of reflected light and the three of them looked up in the direction of Aicha’s bedroom window, which she had just flung open. Aicha stood there in the open window and glared down at the ghosts of Burroughs, Dean and Brunhilde with a look of cold, calculated defiance. From a small cut on the side of Aicha’s forehead there oozed a small trickle of blood. Suddenly the garden seemed ten degrees cooler.
“And it didn’t even phase her,” Burroughs said.
“I think we need some stronger medicine,” Dean said.
“Yes,” Brunhilde said. “Fight fire with fire.”
The sobbing eased up and Burroughs blew his nose again, while still looking up at Aicha standing in her open bedroom window. “Hmmm,” he said. “I wonder if my old friend Kazim is still around. I’m sure he could help us out.”
From a villa somewhere further up on the Old Mountain there suddenly came the sound of loud music, a weird sonic mish-mash of electric guitars, bass, drums and soaring male vocals. “What the fuck is that?” Burroughs asked. “It sounds like…”
“Led Zeppelin and ACDC,” Brunhilde said, finishing his sentence.
“Yeah, but at the same time? Anyway you know I hate that rock shit.”
The three ghosts looked at each other with puzzled expressions.
“I feel a very weird vibe coming from St. Andrew’s,” said Burroughs.
“What do you mean?” said Dean.
“Well it was like an echo of a high-pitched shriek. It even cut through the Armageddon of noise coming from the Old Mountain. How about you and I heading back to Tangier Ville to see what’s happening.”
“Good idea,” said Brunhilde. “You two go and I’ll stay here and see if I can conjure some mischief to keep Aicha jumping. Or at least distract her.” With that Burroughs and Dean swiftly and silently rose into the air and headed back toward the center of town.
Moustapha was just reaching out to make sure the door of the rectory office was locked when it suddenly opened and Rector McClean stood there in the doorway.
“Ah, Moustapha. How convenient. I was just coming to look for you. Do come in, won’t you?”
There was something in McClean’s voice that Moustapha did not like. There was always something in McClean’s voice that Moustapha didn’t like, but this time it seemed somehow different; more menacing, more wicked.
“Please have a seat,” McClean said, motioning toward the wooden chair facing McClean’s large oak desk. McClean went around and sat down in the old fashioned wooden swivel chair and leaned back and clasped his hands. “Moustapha, you don’t need to tell me what happened to Joseph Dean’s tombstone because frankly, it probably wouldn’t make sense even if you did tell the truth. However, I suspect it went missing because of some native mischief. What I do know is that you were involved and that the tombstone is gone and that you attempted to fool me with your papier-mâché tombstone, a trick which unfortunately backfired.”
“It was Aicha, that witch and her black magic!”
McClean held up his hands. “Spare me your talk of witches and black magic, Moustapha. I have no other choice than to relieve you of your duties and post as watchman, as that sort of behavior is simply not tolerated in the Anglican Church of St. Andrew.” McClean glanced up at a painting of St. Andrew hanging on the office wall as though seeking confirmation, and then looked back at Moustapha. “I will, out of the generosity of my heart and based on your many years of service to St. Andrew’s, attach one condition to your dismissal. If you see to it that Joseph Dean’s tombstone is returned within two weeks, I will let you have your job back. In the meantime, your nephew Yousef will take over your duties.”
“But, but, I…”
“No buts, Moustapha, and my word is final.” McClean held out his hand and Moustapha timidly handed over the big ring of clanking keys.
“Thank you, Mr. McClean, Thank you,” Moustapha said begrudgingly, more out of decorum than any real sense of gratitude. As Moustapha turned toward the door, he glanced up at the painting of St. Andrew, who, despite the golden halo, elaborate robes and patriarchal beard, seemed to be wearing a very smug expression on his face.
On a rooftop in the medina, Sayyad, the flute-playing kid, and Cheikh, his pet monkey, were inspecting the loot from Cheikh’s last haul. It wasn’t much really; a small brown glass vial with some white powder in it, and an old hat. The hat was very old, with sweat stains all around the hatband, and the felt was faded and stained from the sun and rain. Inscribed on the inside of the hatband were three Nazrani letters that Sayyad could not read. The first one looked like an upside-down mountain. The second one looked like a snake. The third one looked like two beehives standing on their side. WSB.
Suddenly there was a strange fluttering sound directly over their heads, as though something was flying right over them. But when Sayyad and Cheikh looked up there was nothing and the sound soon faded away. Cheikh drew his head and down and made a fearful grimace, as though a large dangerous hawk had just flown overhead. Sayyad laughed and said, “What are you afraid of Cheikh? There’s nothing there, just the wind.”
As Sayyad returned his attention to the hat and continued to turn it around and around in his fingers, he felt something hard and flat sewn into the hatband. He took out a small penknife and gently opened a seam in the hatband and pulled out a small key and a tiny piece of tightly folded paper. He carefully unfolded the paper but it was covered with a tiny script in Nazrani letters and numbers which Sayyad could not read. He slipped the key and the folded-up paper back into the hatband and put the hat on his head. It was a bit too large but he wanted to wear it anyway. He decided he would go find his friend Steetoo, who had taught himself how to read and write and even knew some English from all his experience with Nazrani tourists. Maybe Steetoo could tell him what the strange letters said.
Of the four present in the cemetery, Abdul, Tweed, Steetoo, and the donkey, only Steetoo had seen the body of Walter Harris materialize on the carpet before it vanished. Harris’ body looked completely restored, as though the earth had given it back. To Steetoo, Harris merely seemed to be lying there on the carpet asleep. Almost simultaneously, Harris’ ghost had begun to melt away. Steetoo, being a curious boy, felt a sense of wonder rather than fear at what he had witnessed. Now I have a story that will impress even Kazim, he thought. Growing up in Tangier he had heard the street storytellers in the Kasbah as they mesmerized their audiences with tales of sorcery and magic. He also knew stories about talking fish and the souls of boys who inhabited snakes and scorpions. Steetoo had once dreamt of a cat who told him where a tourist had dropped his wallet. When he awoke he ran down to the spot and there the wallet lay. He opened it and found several hundred dollars in traveler’s checks. He tried to cash them at a hotel but the clerk took them all, called him a thief and chased him away. The wallet was still in his house with a few other things he had found in the street which he hoped to sell at the flea market. But he had never heard a story about a dead Nazrani flying away on a magic carpet. Hamdoulah, he thought to himself as he looked down at Harris’ grave.
After the explosive flash of light, the donkey had started kicking its hind legs and braying. Abdul reached for the rope and untied it from the vase. “Steetoo, let us leave this djinn-haunted place,” Abdul said. Then he led the donkey quickly out of the cemetery, Steetoo following closely. As soon as Tweed recovered enough to realize that he was alone, he ran to catch up with them.
“Abdul! What just happened? Where did the carpet go?”
“Perhaps to Hell, I do not know. But that place is for the devil, djinns, and Nazrani ghosts.”
“Will you be at home tomorrow?” Tweed asked. “I need to talk to you.”
“Oh yes. You owe me money,” said Abdul, “Well, come by, and, insha’Allah, maybe I am there.”
Tweed stopped walking as he felt a sharp pain in his chest. He was still shaking and saw that it had grown dark. He watched as Abdul, Steetoo, and the donkey turned into one of the medina streets and were gone. After he caught his breath he made his way back to his house. Tweed’s neighborhood in the medina was alive with the activity of people shopping for food and preparing the evening meal. Several of his neighbors were outside lighting charcoal braziers and talking. The smells of fresh baked bread and meat kebabs grilling filled the air with smoky flavors. The clouds had passed and the first stars were appearing above the rooftops.
Inside his house at last, Tweed staggered into the kitchen and collapsed in his one wooden chair. He felt the junk sickness coming back and so he made some tea. Then he put a drop of the djinn oil in it and drank. Soon he felt better. Not quite as high as he was at Abdul’s but a lot calmer than he had felt in a while. His stomach growled and he decided to wash his face and then go out to a restaurant. One of his favorite restaurants was the cave-like Al Andalus near Calle Arco. It only had four tiny tables, each covered with a plastic red and white checkered table cloth.
Mohammed, the owner and cook, greeted him and Tweed found a table in the back. He ordered lamb brochettes, carrot salad, a small loaf of bread, fries, and a Fanta. Al Andalus being located in the medina, they served no alcohol. Tweed poured some Fanta into a glass, and after a quick glance around the restaurant, pulled out a battered silver flask from his inside jacket pocket and poured a generous shot of vodka into the glass of Fanta, quickly replacing the flask in his jacket. He took a drink and sighed with pleasure. The food tasted good and he felt his strength returning. A sense of peace gradually descended over him. He no longer was possessed by the urge to exhume and relocate the body of Walter Harris. The whole scheme seemed like something he had dreamt. In fact the memory of what had occurred in the cemetery was slowly melting away like Abdul’s carpet. By the time he had finished his meal he had totally forgotten about Walter Harris.
Meanwhile, higher up in the medina, Abdul, Steetoo, and the donkey had reached the opening in the Kasbah wall which overlooked the Straits. Steetoo felt the wind blowing across his face and could see the lights of fishing boats down below. When they arrived at Abdul’s house, Abdul asked Steetoo to return the donkey he had borrowed and thanked him.
“Steetoo, come back tomorrow and I will give you something. Now I must go in and lie down. Be careful when a Nazrani asks for your help. They are all friends of the devil.”
“Ouahah,” said Steetoo, who took the rope and led the donkey away. After returning the donkey to the old bearded man who owned him, he ran off toward the Zoco Chico. He was excited about what he had seen and to have a new story to tell. And tomorrow Abdul would give him some money. As he neared Dar Baroud he heard someone yelling his name and looked up. It was Sayyad.
The sound of the shot and the breaking glass interrupted Zodelia’s reverie, kneeling in front of the two halves of the tombstone on the floor of the garage, her fingers still tracing the strange inscription. She got up and went into the storeroom and got a basket of potatoes, and locking the door to the garage behind her, went up the stairs into the kitchen. She deposited the basket next to the sink and stood still to listen for a few moments, but heard nothing more unusual. She climbed the stairs to the second floor and went down the hall toward Aicha’s bedroom, and stopped just outside the door. She knocked gingerly and Aicha asked who it was and then beckoned Zodelia to enter.
Aicha was kneeling on the floor with a hand broom and a dustpan, sweeping up the remnants of the broken glass. “Here, this is your job,” Aicha said, getting to her feet and handing the broom and the dustpan to Zodelia.
“What happened?” Zodelia asked. She immediately noticed the small cut on Aicha’s forehead and the slight trickle of blood. Glancing over at the table she saw the derringer and the box of bullets.
“Just a small accident,” Aicha said.
Zodelia realized that there would be no more information forthcoming and decided not to pursue the issue. She swept up the shards of glass and as she crossed the room to empty the dustpan into the wastebasket, she impulsively glanced out the window into the garden below. She stopped and looked again. Had she seen some people there, some strange Nazranis? She turned toward Aicha and saw her busy with putting away the derringer and the bullets. She looked again down into the garden but now there was no one there.
Zodelia dumped the glass in the wastebasket and put away the hand broom and the dustpan and Aicha dismissed her without another word.
Downstairs in the kitchen, Zodelia looked through the kitchen window into the garden but there was no one there and nothing appeared unusual. She tried to remember exactly what it was that she thought she’d seen in the garden from upstairs and briefly the image of three Nazranis, a woman and two men, with the one older man seated in the iron garden chair by the fish pond, passed through her mind and then disappeared with the abruptness of a television set being turned off. She shook her head and turned back to the sink where the potatoes were. She tipped the basket of potatoes into the sink to start washing and peeling them for the evening dinner. Out of the bottom of the basket there tumbled a slithering knot of huge black centipedes, spilling out of the sink and dropping onto the floor. Zodelia dropped the basket and jumped back and let out a scream that could have been heard all the up the road in Tony Mahoney’s studio had not another Led Zeppelin sample been booming out of the monitor speakers at that very moment.
Next door, Just-call-me-Ishmael came out of his villa, locked the front door, and reset the alarm system. He walked across the expansive front yard and approached the watchman’s cottage at the front gate, with whom he exchanged a few pleasantries while waiting for the taxi he had called. Tucked under Just-call-me-Ishmael’s arm was a flat wooden packing case which contained a rare pastel by Claude Monet, one of the series of views of the Waterloo Bridge that Monet had completed during his stay in London in 1901. Just-call-me-Ishmael explained to the watchman that he would be making a brief trip to Switzerland tomorrow, catching the early morning ferry to Algeciras and then taking the train. Just-call-me-Ishmael hated to fly and avoided it whenever possible. The taxi arrived and Just-call-me-Ishmael said goodbye to the watchman and climbed into the taxi and told the driver to take him into town.
In her room in the Hotel Lutetia in the Avenue My Abdellah, Evangeline Marlybone was sitting on the edge of the bed, smoking a cigarette and drinking from a bottle of Flag beer. She was dressed in black cargo shorts, a thin black muslin tank top and black Doc Martens. Tribal tattoos snaked down both her arms with vivid designs, and her ears as well as her nose and lips were pierced with silver rings and studs. Her hair was cut short and dyed black with a shank of green hanging down over her forehead; blonde hair showed through at the roots.
The Hotel Lutetia was built in 1933 and was a faded relic of Tangier’s colonial past, especially the infamous “International Zone” years, and even more so since it had hardly gone through any changes throughout all the years. Before Paul Bowles settled permanently in Tangier he had lived for a while in the Hotel Lutetia. That was one of the reasons Evangeline had chosen it for her stay.
The French doors to the balcony were wide open and a cool breeze was blowing in off of the Bay of Tangier. The clouds were reflecting the last of the orange glow as the sun went down and the lights of the harbor were twinkling and reflecting in the waters of the bay below. Leaning against one of the open French doors and also smoking and drinking a beer was Piet, a young man from Amsterdam that Evelyn had met and befriended on the train journey from London to Tangier via France and Spain.
“So what’s so important about that old hat?” Piet said. “You act like it’s some kind of priceless heirloom.”
“That’s exactly what it is.”
“Well, we’ll keep looking for it, and if we don’t find it, maybe you should go to the police.”
“I’d rather not.”
Evangeline sighed and took a drag from her cigarette, followed by a gulp of beer. She got up and walked past Piet out onto the balcony and looked out across the harbor. “It’s a long story,” she said.
Piet came out onto the balcony and leaned on the balustrade next to Evangeline. “I’ve got plenty of time,” he said.
“You know William Burroughs, right?”
“I didn’t know him but I know of him; Junky, Naked Lunch, Interzone, Nova Express, Cities of the Red Night… I’ve read most of his work, plus Ted Morgan’s biography, Literary Outlaw, and Michelle Green’s book about Tangier.”
“Then you know who Ian Sommerville was, right?”
“Sure, he was some kind of English math wizard and collaborated with Brion Gysin and Burroughs in the Beat Hotel in Paris, working on the Dream Machine and various cut-up projects. I think he may have been a lover of Burroughs as well.”
“Well, Ian was an uncle of mine, and when he was killed in that car accident near Bath, England, in 1976, he had no real will or heirs, so his possessions were divided up among the various members of the family. My mom got a cardboard box full of various stuff, mostly old ¼” tape reels and some old letters and books and also a lot of mostly useless junk, but there was also an old fedora which used to belong to Burroughs. There was a monogram with WSB on the inside of the hatband. Eventually that hat got handed down to me.”
“And that’s the hat you lost at the Café Hafa?”
“That’s the one. But there’s more to the story. In some of Ian’s correspondence that I found in the box he talked about a manuscript of Burroughs’ that was still locked away in a safety deposit box in a bank in Tangier. Evidently it’s the big, all-inclusive ur-manuscript from which Naked Lunch, Interzone, the “Nova Trilogy,” and much of his later work was taken. Allegedly it contains much material in which Burroughs tried to come to grips with the shooting of his wife, Joan, an incident that played a major role in his entire creative life. It’s a much larger convolute of writing than the so-called “Word Hoard,” which served as the source of much of his writing. Ian referred to the manuscript as the Ultrazone manuscript. At some point the key got lost and Burroughs tried to retrieve the manuscript during subsequent trips to Tangier but the bank authorities refused him access without the key. Burroughs got tired of trying to get it back and eventually gave up the idea of ever seeing it again and finally forgot all about it altogether.
“While going through the rest of the junk in the box I found the safety deposit box key and a slip of paper with the number of the box and the name and address of the bank in Tangier, tucked away inside one of the boxes for the reel-to-reel tapes. Once I made the connection I sewed the key and the slip of paper into the hatband and started off for Tangier, in the hopes of rescuing Ultrazone from all those years of obscurity.”
“Wow. Amazing. We’ll start looking again first thing tomorrow morning. You know it’s funny, but that guy we saw with your hat did sort of look like Burroughs.”
“That occurred to me as well. That should make him easy to find again.”
“On the other hand, they didn’t call Burroughs El Hombre Invisible for nothing.”
“Where’d you get the Nazrani hat?” Steetoo asked.
Sayyad told Steetoo about how Cheikh had stolen the hat and the bottle of white powder out of the Nazrani’s apartment next door. He then took off the hat and showed him the key and the slip of paper with the strange writing on it. Steetoo glanced around and then told Sayyad to put them back in the hat, suggesting they go down to their secret meeting place to have a closer look. The streets of the medina, with their numerous eyes and ears, were no place to discuss secrets.
The two of them walked down through the winding streets of the medina until they came to the harbor. They walked along the Avenue Mohammed VI for a while and then turned into a narrow passageway between some small shops and an old warehouse which had been deserted and boarded up for several years. At the back of the warehouse, which was entirely out of view behind high brick walls, Steetoo and Sayyad removed a couple of boards from a small window and climbed inside, replacing the boards behind them.
They went into a small windowless room which they had fixed up with a rudimentary table made of wooden packing crates and boards and some old chairs and Steetoo lit a candle. They called the room their Oculto Chabola or Hideaway. In the corner were a mattress and a blanket where Steetoo sometimes slept. On the wall hung a torn, tattered poster of Pamela Anderson in her Baywatch gear. Sayyad took off the hat and took out the key and the slip of paper and passed them to Steetoo. In the flickering light of the candle, Steetoo carefully studied the slip of paper, looked closely at the key, and then back to the paper.
“So what does it say?” Sayyad asked.
“It’s a key to a safety deposit box, with the number of the box and the address of the bank.”
“What should we do with it?”
“We need to find out what’s in that box.”
“What if it’s a lot of money, or gold, or jewels?”
“Then we’ll be rich and you can buy Cheikh a diamond-studded collar.”
After leaving the rectory office, Moustapha slowly passed the rows of wooden pews on his way to the door of St. Andrew’s Church. He passed two prominent plaques on the south wall. The first proclaimed, “Knowledge belongs to God – He who has the power and the glory,” and its companion plaque repeated five times the phrase, “Praise be to God for the grace of Islam.” He paused at several marble plaques set into the wall near the entrance, each carved with the name of some notable parishioner or church benefactor. Two of them were his favorites and the ones he liked most to point out to tourists. There was a plaque inscribed to Sherifa Emily Keene, the British woman who had married the Sherif of Wazzan, a lord from the Rif Mountains. Besides introducing the Cholera vaccine to Morocco she had helped many poor villagers in the mountains near her home. During the infamous kidnapping of Greek-American Ion Perdicaris by the warlord and brigand, Mulay Ahmed er Raisuli, Emily Keene was instrumental in gaining his release. Moustapha sometimes thought of her as a saint. There was a plaque to Sir Hay John Drummond Hay, British Minister to Tangier, who died in 1893. Hay was considered a diplomat with immense influence in Tangier and throughout the kingdom. He was also a consummate sportsman with a passion for horse racing and hunting. No sport flourished more under Hay’s influence than his famous boar hunts or “pig-sticking” on horseback using native spears. Under Drummond Hay’s energetic example, “pig-sticking” in Morocco became de rigueur for Tangier’s adventurous upper-class British residents.
Moustapha sat down in one of the pews and recalled the time in 1980 when the old wooden church organ had been dismantled by then Rector Arthur Evans and two teachers from the American School of Tangier. The wood had begun to suffer from constant variations in temperature and humidity, plus the infestations of wood-boring insects and mice that had a particular taste for the valves. The organ, though once capable of producing warm, mellifluous tones, had become impossible to repair and was perpetually out of tune. When played it wheezed like a tubercular trying to catch its breath. Moustapha had asked Rector Evans if he might have one of the smaller organ flutes which were destined for the charcoal market. The one he picked out was about twelve inches long and had a square shape with a sound hole and opening where the forced air from the organ bellows blew through it. With quiet determination Moustapha had learned to play several clear notes on it by strategically placing two fingers over the valve. Though he had a reed flute that had belonged to his uncle–a Sufi who played with a group of Jilala musicians—he favored the wooden organ pipe. Moustapha would often sit in his shack and play various Berber song patterns during afternoon siestas. He had even carved a crude hamsah design on each of the four sides. The hamsah, also called the Hand of Fatimah, was supposed to offer protection to the owner.
Moustapha’s eyes were moist as he rose from the pew and walked through the doorway. He paused again to look up at the square Moorish church tower, then wandered listlessly to his watchman’s shack. Inside, he touched each of his tools, a saw, a hoe, a shovel and a pick ax. Then he carried the shovel to Joseph Dean’s grave. The papier-mâché tombstone had become two shapeless lumps of soggy newsprint. Moustapha stuck the shovel blade under the wet paper and heaved it on top of a pile of cuttings and other refuse. In removing the fake tombstone he uncovered a cluster of black centipedes who had arranged themselves to form the letter “D.” As soon as they were exposed they disassembled and hurriedly crawled off in different directions. “May Allah protect me,” said Moustapha. He picked up a piece of a broken broom lying nearby and swept the grave clean, then placed cedar branches over the spot where Dean’s tombstone had lain. Then he returned the shovel and picked up his worn blanket, an old shopping basket, his organ pipe, and a heart-shaped stone the young daughter of a parishioner had once given him. As he passed through the main gate he glanced back and saw Zora, sitting on the wicker stool just outside his shack and staring at him with her dark green eyes.
For months he had been wearing an old pair of leather sandals which were covered in mud and falling apart so he stopped by the shoe seller stalls across the street from the church and bought a pair of bright yellow babouches. The new shoes seemed to lift his spirits a little and he walked on down to the Grand Socco Mosque in time for the Maghrib call to evening prayer. Outside the mosque he washed his feet carefully and then threw the old sandals away. After prayers he decided to walk up to Rue America du Sud on his way to Rue de la Liberté.
Meanwhile the ghosts of Burroughs and Dean had arrived at the cemetery. Like a super-sensitive seismograph, they immediately felt the strange vibrations emanating from Walter Harris’ grave. The two circled Harris’ tombstone and Burroughs noticed a rectangular area which sparkled as though it had been sprinkled with glitter. “Apparently something went down here,” said Burroughs. “Or something went up you mean,” said Dean. “I don’t sense the presence of Walter Harris at all, Bill. I wonder what else has been going on. Maybe we should inspect my grave.”
They drifted over to the low wall and steps leading down to the lower cemetery where Joseph Dean was buried. The lower cemetery was the least well-tended in the churchyard grounds. The base of the high wall was overgrown with vines and the flat areas displayed patches of bare clay which glistened like bald spots. Burroughs and Dean moved slowly, peering at the broken bones of old tombs. Now that the rain had ended, a half dozen feral cats were lounging on various moss-covered slabs of marble.
“Well this is definitely my grave,” said Dean, pointing down at the covering of cedar branches. “But where’s the fake tombstone?”
“Hey, there’s your memorial,” said Burroughs, nodding toward a lumpy pile of newspapers near the wall.
They walked over to examine what was left of the papier-mâché tombstone. The pages had come unglued and separated in places. “Jesus, what a mess,” said Dean.
“Wait, this is interesting,” said Burroughs. “A whole new spin on Brion Gysin’s cut-up writing technique. Look at these disintegrating Journal de Tanger pages which have melted and merged with a section of Le Matin. Could be what we have here are the first Tombstone Cut-Ups.”
“Never mind the literary crap. I’m still trying to get my damned tombstone back,” said Dean.
Burroughs was still lost in his reverie. “Well, it’s not The Ticket that Exploded, but rather The Tombstone that Melted. Who knows, maybe there’s a book in all this.”
Just then both ghosts tuned in on the nearby movements of Moustapha. Passing through the thick cemetery wall, they spotted Moustapha walking towards Dean’s Bar. As they watched, he paused outside the entrance as if deciding whether to go inside.
“I don’t think booze is what Moustapha needs right now,” said Dean.
In an instant Burroughs and Dean were at Moustapha’s side. Dean quickly exercised the power of suggestion, and made Moustapha suddenly feel ill and nauseous from the smell of alcohol, tobacco smoke, and grilled sardines which wafted out of the doorway.
“Moustapha seems lost. Like he doesn’t know where he’s going next. Reminds me of me when I was alive and haunted these streets,” said Burroughs. “Look, he’s got his shack blanket and that ratty old basket.”
“Maybe he’s been fired from his job at St. Andrew’s for all the craziness that’s been going on. Let’s just follow him and see where he ends up,” said Dean.
“Yeah. Let it come down, as the Mage of Tangier put it,” said Burroughs.
Moustapha’s thoughts were as tangled as a pile of wool about to be carded. He had been tricked and vexed by Aicha and her dubious witchcraft, betrayed by the rain which had exposed the fake tombstone, been fired from his job as caretaker and watchman, the cemetery was still haunted, and he still owed Tarik at the bacal 500 dirhams. How could he explain to his sister what had happened? Her husband, being the obstinate tyrant that he was, would now likely forbid him from visiting their home. It seemed his one chance to save himself was to steal back Dean’s tombstone and restore it to its proper place before Rector McLean’s deadline. But doing so inevitably require battling Aicha. He knew he wasn’t strong enough to defeat her magic and trickery. What he needed now was the help of a holy man or sorcerer. Suddenly Moustapha saw the wise and benevolent face of Kazim emerging in his mind’s eye.
(c) 2014 By The Authors
FRANCIS POOLE first visited Morocco in 1973 and 1975 and was eventually hired to teach English at the American School of Tangier in 1979. During this time he met and befriended Paul Bowles, in whose apartment he also met Mohamed Mrabet, Mohamed Temsamani, Mohamed Choukri, Gavin Lambert, Claude Thomas, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, and others. During Poole’s three-year stay in Tangier he wrote poetry and edited BLADES, a small magazine of experimental writing to which Paul Bowles contributed several items, including the first poem he ever wrote as a young child. After other teaching stints in Evora and Lisbon, Portugal, Poole eventually returned to the USA, where he became a film archivist at the University of Delaware, which had a substantial Paul Bowles collection. Poole was then able to negotiate the acquisition of a substantial amount of Bowles’s papers, notebooks, letters, and books, which greatly expanded the University of Delaware’s collection. Poole last spoke with Bowles in September, 1999, two months before his death. The outcome of that conversation was the last interview with Paul Bowles, which appeared in Five Points. Poole has published several collections of prose and poetry, including Everybody Comes to Dean’s; Dean’s Bar, Tangier, (Poporo Press, 2012), Snakeskin Raincoat (Poporo Press, 2013), and with Kevin Lacey he co-edited Mirrors on the Maghrib: Critical Reflections on Paul and Jane Bowles and Other American Writers in Morocco (Caravan Books, 1996.) His essay on Hollywood’s depiction of the Moroccan bandit, Moulay Ahmed al-Raisuli in The Wind and the Lion, was published in The Arab-African and Islamic Worlds: Interdisciplinary Studies, and an essay on William Burroughs and the Beats was published in International Quarterly. Other writings have appeared in the Village Voice, Exquisite Corpse, Black Moon, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Bukowski Review, Chiron Review, Lost and Found Times, New York Quarterly, Pearl, Poema Convidado, Poetry East, Rolling Stone, Shattered Wig Review and elsewhere. Recently he collaborated with Mark Terrill on two limited edition chapbooks of poetry illustrated with collages by John Digby, The Spleen of Madrid and A Pair of Darts (both Feral Press, 2012). Poole lives with his wife in Newark, Delaware.
MARK TERRILL shipped out of San Francisco as a merchant seaman to the Far East and beyond, and was a participant in a writing workshop with Paul Bowles at the American School of Tangier, Morocco, in 1982, resulting in a long-lasting friendship and many return visits to Tangier over the years. After extensive travels and stays in Europe, Terrill settled in Hamburg, Germany, in 1984, where he’s worked as a shipyard welder, road manager for rock bands, cook and postal worker. He is the author of Here to Learn; Remembering Paul Bowles (Green Bean Press, 2002) Bread & Fish (The Figures, 2002), The United Colors of Death (Pathwise Press, 2003), The Salvador-Dalai-Lama Express, (Main Street Rag, 2009), Laughing Butcher Berlin Blues (Poetry Salzburg, 2010) and 22 other books and chapbooks of poetry, prose and translations. Other writings and translations have appeared in over 700 literary journals and anthologies worldwide, including City Lights Review, Cahiers d’Art, Bombay Gin, Denver Quarterly, Fourteen Hills, Skanky Possum, Gargoyle, Rattle, Zen Monster, Talisman, Jacket, Partisan Review and elsewhere. In 2009 he was invited to guest-edit a special German Poetry issue of the Atlanta Review, which included his translations of Günter Grass, Peter Handke, Nicolas Born and many others. Together with the poet Cralan Kelder, Terrill co-edited the poetry journal Full Metal Poem. A four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, his own work has been translated into German, French and Portuguese, and he’s given readings in various venues in Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, Prague and Hamburg. Recent publications include a chapbook of his translations of the poetry of Jörg Fauser, An Evening in Europe (Toad Press, 2011), and a full-length collection of his translations of the poetry of Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, An Unchanging Blue, Selected Poems 1962-1975 (Parlor Press / Free Verse Editions, 2011). Currently he lives on the grounds of a former boatyard near Hamburg with his wife and a large brood of cats.